Some Limitations of the Socialist Calculation Debate
One of the most important debates in the history of economics is known as the ‘socialist calculation debate’. It was initiated in 1920 by the Austrian school economist Ludwig von Mises and continued by Friedrich Hayek, who forcibly criticised the schemes for socialist planning developed by Oskar Lange, Henry Dickenson and others. But the earlier critique of socialism by the German historical school economist Albert Schäffle has been largely overlooked. Furthermore, the rightful emphasis on the role of information and knowledge in the Austrian case, ironically suggests some limits on property and markets, as well as endorsing their continuing importance. This essay points to the neglect of the detailed character of institutions on both sides of the debate. Not only were adequate notions of property and exchange absent from the general equilibrium theory used by the socialists in their attempted justifications of planning, but they were also threadbare on the Austrian side. Hence, ironically, the Austrian defence of capitalism was inadequate.